Saina Nehwal once again proved that she has the killer instinct required to win the big matches as she beat PV Sindhu to clinch her second Commonwealth Games women’s singles gold, eight years after she bagged her first in New Delhi.
The 28-year-old trailed throughout the second game before she saved a game point to beat Sindhu 21-18, 23-21 in 58 minutes to register her third straight win over the world number 3 in the last six months.
Their first face-off since Nehwal returned from a career-threatening knee injury in 2016, came at the Senior National final and the Commonwealth Games summit clash followed a similar pattern with the 28-year-old once again pulling off a heist against her much younger opponent with a perfect strategy.
Over the years, most players have adopted a game plan of engaging Sindhu in long rallies and hoping to break her down with the waiting game. But Nehwal, known for her retrieving game, has never followed that strategy against her compatriot and prefers to go on an all-out attack mode. She came in with a game plan that required her to not allow Sindhu to control the proceedings and perfectly executed that plan.
On Sunday, she began with a flourish, went for the big smashes each time the opportunity presented itself and raced to a 11-6 lead. On the other hand, Sindhu was struggling to control the pace of the rallies as her opponent either kept the shuttle deep or on the downward trajectory and did it with unerring consistency.
It was only towards the end of the first game with Nehwal having six game points in her bag that Sindhu managed to find a chink in her opponent’s armour and saved four game points to close the gap.
The momentum looked like it was shifting towards Sindhu following that run of play and the 22-year-old opened up a 6-9 lead early in the second game as she began reading Nehwal a little better. Saina, was also perhaps guilty of going for the lines to try and finish the rallies quickly when under pressure. A high-risk strategy at the best of times.
Though Nehwal ended up making a couple of unforced errors in the bargain, the smile on her face even after those mistakes was a clear indicator that the former world number had the measure of her opponent in terms of match strategy.
She ensured that at no point did Sindhu race to a big lead and the tide turned once again when Nehwal won the 64-shot rally, the longest of the match, to make it 18-19.
The 28-year-old looked too tired to continue midway through the rally but kept the shuttle in play with quality strokes and finally caught Sindhu flat-footed in the middle of the court with a backhand flick.
Sindhu did earn a game point by finishing another long rally with a smash winner. But Nehwal wasn’t willing to let the match go in the decider as she grabbed her second match point with a flurry of smashes and exulted in relief and happiness when Sindhu hit a forehand push wide.